Authority V Liberty (Round 4,287,541)

Nobody would contest the desirability of knowing exactly what was in the killers’ heads and history; preferably before they managed to gun down fourteen fellow American citizens in San Bernardino in December. The FBI obviously thinks this is a poster child for their demand for American tech companies to provide back-doors into our encrypted gadgets.

If you’re remotely inclined to sympathise with the FBI, consider this.

It is not just conceivable but highly likely that within 10-20 years, we will have technology capable of ferreting that information out of anyone’s  head. And if you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at this.

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this (added 2016-06-15)

I could go on. The point is that those links illustrate the amount of effort being put into digital mind-reading and the extent to which it’s already been achieved; and that some people are already fully aware of the potential threat, which makes ALL other Privacy invasions pale into insignificance. My 10-20 year time-frame is probably conservative.

I’ve been taking a close personal interest in this technology since Dr Larry Farwell had his 15 minutes back in 2003 when he  managed to get his Brain Fingerprinting evidence accepted by a court which resulted in the release of Terri Harrington, who’d, by then, served 23 years after being wrongly convicted of murder.

I wrote to Farwell at the time, suggesting that his technology could offer the “perfect bio-metric”. I postulated, for example, that it could identify me, uniquely, by observing my neural reaction to seeing a photograph of my late father.  No one else’s brain could simulate my reaction so no one else could pretend to be me. I also suggested that another obvious benefit would be to solve the most intractable problem in secure authentication; viz: access under duress. “Yes they are entering the correct password or revealing the correct retinal scan, but are they only doing that because someone is holding a gun to their head?”

I’m still waiting for a reply!

But it’s obvious that, since then, the technology (and America’s military interest in it) has been marching on. So, whether you like it or not, it’s on its way.  And the authoritarians who are funding the most meaningful research don’t share my views on the use of the technology to prevent privacy invasion. Quite the opposite. They see it as the greatest possible advance in privacy invasion and you can expect laws to change to permit it as we get closer to it. In a sense, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

Once digital mind reading is possible, it will be plausible to argue that, for example, airlines should be allowed to put every passenger through such a mind scanner, in order to ensure that no-one with evil intent against the aircraft is permitted to board.

That’s not my fevered imagination either. Comes from the man himself, almost certainly, given the date of that article, as part of his personal reaction to 9-11.

A first reaction, given my fear of flying, is that I might even think its a good idea myself. Particularly if the “duress protection” was mandated as part of the technology, so that no one could be coerced into having their mind read. And if there was a formally agreed set of questions to which our brain responses would be measured, with no recording of data, alarms raised only on appropriate warnings etc etc, I’d certainly welcome the assurance that, provably, no one sharing that flight with me, had any intention, when they boarded at least, of bringing the plane down.

But as we’ve seen, in some detail, over the past decade, that’s not the way Authority works.   Duress protection, independently citizen audited surveillance of the process and strictly limited application are never on the authoritarian agenda. Instead, they demand back doors, weak encryption, surrender of passwords etc etc.

Society is divided into two groups. The authoritarians and their followers form one group and they will argue in favour of allowing the mind-scanners and insisting that we all step through them.

Once we’ve conceded that for something as serious as air travel, it will be only a matter of time before they mandate it for (in roughly descending order) weeding out Pedophiles, Rapists, Tax dodgers, Copyright cheats,  Trolls, Recreational drug users and Dissidents. Then, depending which level of authoritarianism you live under, they’ll move on to apostates, homosexuals, marital cheats, speeding motorists and other ne’er do wells.

Those who understand Liberty and the nature of threats like the above will probably have to fight the authoritarians literally to the death in what may come to be known as Humanity’s Final War.

The current Apple battle is an early skirmish in that war.

Pick your sides now and be sure of a good seat…

Finally, if you want to hear an intelligent presentation of the current state of the relevant science, and some of the issues, check this out:

Ignorant White Bitch Blames Black Culture For Police Attacks On Blacks

I make no apologies for the headline. That was my second and more restrained choice of language. The Faux News “journalist” is referring to this incident, in case you haven’t seen it

in which a white cop (Ben Fields – now “ex cop” I’m delighted to observe) assaulted a black female teenage school kid in front of her own class when she failed to comply with his demand to accompany him after he’d been called in because she was disrupting the class.

Such is US Authoritarian culture that the brainless morons who form their world view through the corrupt prism of  Faux News actually think that enforcing school discipline is an appropriate use of the Police force. And such is US Police Culture that it doesn’t even occur to the uniformed bullies that physical attacks are only justified in the course of either self-defence or 3rd party defence. Violent coercion is considered a routine and acceptable policing method.

Hence, far from Black Culture causing such routine abuse by the police, it is far more appropriate and accurate to argue that Police Culture is a major factor in shaping US Black Culture which has to come to terms with the fact that the State permits its enforcers to treat black citizens as “suspects by default” to the extent that black men are

twice as likely to be killed by police than white men

twice as likely to be unarmed when the Police kill them

6 times as likely to end up in jail as white men – even though for some of the main crimes they are jailed for, like drug possession, they’re actually less likely to commit

and more likely to be in prison than in paid employment.

I am continually amazed at the relatively passive acceptance by the black American community of this centuries old racist aggression by the State and its agents – which has, if anything, slightly worsened under the “control” of a black American President. Among the oppressed minorities with a strong case for armed insurrection, American blacks are definitely in the Premier League.

David Anderson takes a Step In the Right Direction

With David Anderson’s report, we finally look like we may be moving in the right direction.

However, his solution to over-reach is aiming at the wrong target. Prior authorisation by his proposed new judicial body is really no more than a band-aid on the amputated limb.

The 2800 authorisations issued last year are enough to illustrate the limitation of “control by authorisation”

There is no way that serious consideration of the facts and arguments underpinning any relevant surveillance request can possibly be conducted, at that rate, by the small organisation implied by a Judicial Commission. In fact, as David Davies argued on Radio 4, it’s not credible that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, even with the resources of the Home Office, can give genuinely appropriate levels of attention to such requests at the rate of 7 a day. Especially on top of her day job.

Frankly, however, we shouldn’t really care who signs off the authorisation for any given task. All they need to authorise is that the new rules I’m about to propose are being followed to the letter. That, in short means that a new digital case file has been opened and that everything related to the case will be stored in that file and made available, on demand to the independent oversight body and/or political authorities.

What matters far more – and is absolutely vital to ensuring true democratic control of the State’s surveillance apparatus – is the complete and routine data-capture (to an immutable audit trail) of the entire surveillance decision-making process and subsequent implementation of those decisions. In other words, nobody should be watched more closely and comprehensively than the watchers themselves. Think helmet cams, body cams, discreet microphones, Smartphone and GPS location tracking, Google glass and a host of similar technologies. Think ubiquitous CCTV and Webcam coverage in all secure areas and offices.

These are the experts in surveillance. They know exactly how to ensure that everything they say and do, in the line of duty, is captured to that immutable audit trail. They know how to keep their own data safe and secure and available only to those who have legal authority to access it. (If they don’t, they have no business keeping ours) It would probably be cost neutral or slightly beneficial.

Most importantly it will facilitate precisely the democratic oversight which is needed to ensure that everything the authorities do is on the record (or is automatically a criminal offence) and available for review by whatever oversight body we determine is necessary to earn the Trust of the British People.

That body must have untrammelled authority to inspect ANY relevant data at ANY time from the moment of authorisation forward. Indeed, it must even have authority to conduct spot inspections of anything relevant to their oversight with the sole and reasonable limitation that they can watch but not impede an ongoing operation. They must also be allocated resources which permit independent and trusted expert evaluation of what they find.

The technology will allow them to rewind any operation and see for themselves what evidence justified the operation and whether the implementation of the operation was entirely necessary and proportionate. Note, I don’t even insist that it was “legal”.

What matters is that We The People would agree that it was justified. Not that a “here today gone tomorrow” politician – with a potentially hidden agenda – asserts that it was justified and demands that we trust them.

The oversight body would be empowered to disclose whatever they thought necessary to the British Public. We need to be completely confident that if they say the operation was clean and justified, but that the details need to remain secret, we would probably have agreed with them if we were in possession of all the facts.

By the same token, where they clearly uncover illicit behaviour, we must be equally confident that they are able to disclose everything we ought to know, however embarrassing for the State, that disclosure may be.

Personally I don’t trust unelected Authoritarians, even relatively tame ones like most Judges, to wield that disclosure against the elected Authoritarians and I would much prefer that Oversight body to take the form of a Standing Jury with a few dozen members selected randomly from a national pool of civic-minded volunteers.

I don’t think we should object if the Security services wanted to Vet those volunteers and weed out any that might be a threat to the necessary discipline and security that such a Jury would have to work under. But the Jury itself would be the final arbiter on any such exclusions from Jury Service.

Such an arrangement would render the process truly democratic.

We should, perhaps, have no objection to a tribunal of experienced judges being available to advise and guide the Jury on all points of law and precedent, but the Jury itself should be sovereign and make the final judgements.

With all that in place, you can perhaps see why we needn’t care so much about who authorises the actual operations.

Provided we can see, after the event, who was asked, why they were asked, why they agreed, what the consequences were and how it was handled, frankly I don’t give a give a damn what it is they actually authorise – up to and including the assassination of a fellow citizen – or even an attack on a wedding party in Pakistan. There are potential legitimate reasons for any of these activities.

But where the consequences are that extreme, nothing less than a Jury of our peers, taking an entirely uninhibited look, on our behalf, at what went on and why, will satisfy any rationally sceptical citizen that the decisions were reasonable and rationally based on reviewable evidence; or that the implementation of those decisions was carried out in the least destructive and damaging way possible in the circumstances.

To be blunt; how many of the USA Police brutality incidents we have been bombarded with for the past few decades would have survived that level of scrutiny? Or, to put it another way, how much of that brutality would we have eliminated, how many lives would we have saved, had they been under that level of scrutiny?

Yes, the American Police are a far easier target for our opprobrium than the British Security Services.
We’d rather like to keep it that way!

NSA Backlash limps into action


Kudos to the Real News for that interview.

I’m still surprised and disappointed at the miserably subdued backlash against what the American authoritarians and their poodles have been getting away with against the citizens of the world.

But perhaps I’m just impatient and the Resistance is building. Today I hear that there are demonstrations in the streets of Washington, under the banner “Stop Watching Us“. No word yet on how many turned up.

That matters. If it’s a handful, the regime will read that as a green light to continue. It would need to be a several hundred thousand to have serious political impact.

Authoritarian defenders are crawling around trying to find ways to defend the indefensible. One of the most cringeworthy was Cameron’s puerile posing at yesterday’s EU summit

“What Snowden is doing – and to an extent, what the newspapers are doing in helping him doing what he is doing – is frankly signalling to people who mean to do us harm how to evade and avoid intelligence and surveillance,” he said. “That is not going to make our world safer.”

What the fuck has that got to do with listening in on Angela Merkel’s private telephone conversations?

The answer, of course, is “nothing whatsoever” but they haven’t got any kind of justification for that abuse, so, instead they fall back on a childlike reference to the reason they routinely give for snooping on everyone else, in the hope that somehow, the “bewildered herd” will conflate the two issues and conclude that spying on 35 world leaders is all necessarily part of the “War on Terror”

Well those 35 and many other members of the international political classes are beginning to smell the coffee. And they’re beginning to feel their blood pressure mounting as they take on board the extent of American (and British) hubris. This has already resulted in growing demands for NSA-proof communication systems between them and, as you’ll have seen in that Video, countries like Brazil are going a whole stage further and demanding communication channels which bypass America altogether.

This is a very welcome development for the politicians at least. Let’s hope they remember that any secure sauce considered good enough for the political goose is equally good for the citizen ganders.

None of the so-called “Revelations” are actually new…
Coincidentally, “Nothing Whatsoever” is also the answer to the question: how much does the average politician, including the British Prime Minister, understand about “Security”? He and many others we’ve seen squirming in recent weeks have frequently repeated that absurd argument quoted above.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, NOTHING in the Snowden revelations is new or unexpected. We have been able to read about it for years, and not just in conspiracy fetish forums where they don’t believe Man has ever walked on the Moon, but in well documented and highly respected sources like the trilogy of exposes written by James Bamford over the past 30 years (“Puzzle Palace” 1983, “Body of Secrets” 2002 and, with specific reference to all the web snooping, “Shadow Factory” 2009)

All Snowden has added to the picture is detail (like the name of the relevant program – PRISM) and some notion of scale. Mostly he has simply confirmed what we’d read in Shadow Factory. (Actually, in my case, I was 2/3 of the way through that book when the Snowden revelations hit the street. That made it somewhat more pressing and relevant!)

So the notion that the “evil-doers” didn’t already know this is utterly stupid and exactly the kind of misapprehension that those who do understand Security would NOT be labouring under. Such naiveté might have been widespread among terrorists at the turn of the century but after 12 years of targeted drone strikes and other successful assassination attempts, the spooks KNOW that their main genuine targets are very aware of the need for secure communications and, almost certainly, avoid using the web altogether (at least not for operational communications).

The only “terrorists” who are going to be caught through their web activity are the terrorist equivalent of those “script kiddies” who created a bunch of irritating but mostly harmless malware in the Nineties and Naughties. They’re the “wannabe jihadists” who, even if they aren’t caught, are rarely going to have the aptitude and experience to pose real threats.

Exposing the scale of the NSA dragnet has, therefore, done “nothing whatsoever” to alert the real bad guys. Which is not, however, to say that the exposure doesn’t help the terrorists. It does, but obviously the spooks haven’t bothered to tell the Prime Minister and other politicians how. Perhaps they think it’s too complicated for him and the rest of the bewildered herd to grok. Or perhaps they’re too embarrassed to admit that they’ve shot themselves in both feet.

How Snowden HAS Helped the Terrorists…
Here’s how Snowden’s high-profile confirmation is going to make life easier for the terrorists and the few other genuine anti-social bastards (like the paedophile network, or people traffickers) we really do need the security services to try to keep tabs on.

At the moment, none of the serious targets will ever be caught discussing anything (significant) online in plain text. If they use the web at all they’ll be using adequate encryption, almost certainly beyond NSA’s capacity to break. But it’s unlikely they’ll even use much in the way of encrypted emails because they will also be aware that even if their messages cannot be read, traffic analysis and the so-called “metadata” we keep hearing about provides a huge amount of significant data on its own, even without knowing the content.

The NSA have huge programs designed to trace the networks of connections between ANY given bunch of targets. As you can read in that link, they (and others) can easily create ad hoc network diagrams for any given targets. But they live in a “target rich environment”, so they have to spend most of their time focussed on those most likely to be sharing sensitive data. Thus they’re most interested in the connections between users of encrypted email. Because, they reason, if the senders are hiding something, it is probably worth reading, and definitely worth knowing who is talking to who.

And, at the moment, tracing those connections and compiling the relevant “organisation chart” is relatively simple. I doubt if, even globally, more than a hundred thousand email users regularly securely encrypt their messages. And mapping the links for that hundred thousand or so is well within the NSA reach.

But a major consequence of Snowden’s leaks is already beginning to be visible as the number of users of serious encryption begins to rise. And some significant political and commercial muscle is going into the mix. For example, Brazil, as we’ve heard, is now demanding a secure email system for their politicians and it’s quite likely they’ll make it available and recommend it for their citizens.

German entrepreneurs, meanwhile, have already come up with a partial solution and appeared within hours of the Merkel revelations, to exploit the advertising opportunity for their SecuSmart micro SD card “encryption dongle” – available for all smartphone users and in use by the German Government since July; which might be why we’re now hearing that Merkel was targeted from 2002 up until June this year. Once the card was fitted, NSA would have lost their ability to bug her – although not necessarily their ability to track who she was calling or being called by. Any communications between two users fitted with those cards can at least be confident that the content of their conversations is not being overheard (providing, of course, that the phones themselves haven’t been tampered with and they’re not bugged in any other way)

We can confidently expect a rash of genuinely secure phone and email products to appear on web pages near you in the near future. Who knows, Google and some of the other major players might even tweak their own services to make them snoop proof (by giving users the ability to add their own secret keys).

So there is a very real prospect that within, say, 5 years, instead of a hundred thousand secure emailers, there will be a hundred million and, as any fule kno, the complexity of a network diagram is proportional not to the number of nodes, but the square of that number (“Metcalfe’s Law”). So the NSA task isn’t going to be a mere thousand times more difficult, but around a million. And even their shiny new Utah Repository isn’t going to be able to cope with that.

Which means that it will shortly become much safer for terrorists and others to use their own encrypted emails. Fish are always safer swimming in the sea. Up till now, they’ve been forced to swim in a rather small pond and have, thus, been easy to target with a hand-held net. Snowden’s revelations, with the help of those media not afraid to talk truth to power, have already achieved far more exposure than Bamford’s. His book is currently languishing at number 72,169 in the Amazon sales rankings, which I reckon must mean that probably fewer people have so far read his (much more detailed) exposure than my guesstimate of the number of users who routinely encrypt their mail.

So the sharks we really do need to keep an eye on are about to get the comforting camouflage of another hundred million or so fish and the reasonably sized Sea they need to swim in more safely. This is what they call, in the trade, Blowback. Nice one NSA…

Heather Brooke’s Successful battle to expose political corruption

I concur…

Heather Brooke’s Homepage

Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki)

depressing to find that this has just 5 “likes” on Stumbleupon and has only been viewed 80,125 times on youtube despite having been available, free, for over a year. This degree of apathy explains how they continue to get away with it. They are immune because “We The People” are indifferent. Sad, sad, sad…

Congratulations! You’re This Week’s Lucky Winner…